Andy LaRoche Reaching His Potential

Andy LaRoche was to be given a solid shot at the Los Angeles third base job when spring training opened in 2008. Then lightening struck twice and blotted out his chance, never to return. But now he is reaching the potential many had predicted for him.

Third base incumbent Nomar Garciaparra was hit on the hand by a pitch and only moments later, LaRoche was covering third base on a steal and the ball glanced off the baserunner and hit his hand and that resulted in an operation.

He was never seriously considered to be a contender for the third base slot after the accident.

Signed by the Dodgers in the 39th round of the 2003 draft, he missed most of the 2003 season but at age 20 he slugged 33 doubles and 23 home runs for Columbus and Vero Beach in 2004. He followed that with 30 homers at Vero and Jacksonville in 2005 with a .305 average. His power diminished a bit in 2006 (19 homers at Jacksonville and Las Vegas and a .316 average).

He was injured part of the season although he hit .309 at Las Vegas with 18 homers in 2007. He was called up later in the season but hit only .226 but had a .365 on-base percentage over 92 times at bat. He got 59 at-bats in 2008 before he was included in the three-way trade with Boston and Pittsburgh that brought Manny Ramirez to Los Angeles.

Like the Dodgers, many Pittsburgh fans were quick to write LaRoche off when he got off to a bad start over the final two months of the 2008 season. He hit just .152/.227/.232 in 49 games with the Pirates.

However, LaRoche's minors numbers predicted long-term success and he finally appears to have gotten on track at the age of 25.

Pittsburgh showed patience, a commodity in short supply in the Major League, when LaRoche started the season 2-for-22 (.091) and since then he's responded by going 47-for-139 (.338) with 16 extra-base hits in 40 games, giving him a nice .304/.374/.435 mark overall.

As predicted, LaRoche may never develop more than 20-homer power, but he's hitting for a nice batting average, getting on base at an excellent rate, and playing solid defense just like his many supporters predicted.

Was the 1951 Thomson HR Ball Found?
A book by Brian Biegel traces the home run ball Bobby Thomson hit off Ralph Branca in the last of the ninth in the third game of the playoff between the Giants and Dodgers that broke hearts all over not only Brooklyn but most of the country.

One day in 1990, at a Salvation Army store in Levittown, N.Y., a man bought an old autographed baseball for $2. Years later, he began to wonder: Could this be the very baseball that Bobby Thomson hit into the stands of New York's Polo Grounds in 1951?

That question became an obsession for his son, documentary filmmaker Brian Biegel, who recounts his investigation in "Miracle Ball." It's a fascinating tale of the ongoing investigation.

Over the next two years, Biegel worked to find out whether his father's baseball was the remarkable relic, or at least what happened to the real baseball. He got professional help to find photos of the famous home run. He interviewed people. Leads appeared, and then disappeared.

Then a chance conversation with an old man in Nutley, N.J. led him to an elderly nun in a convent in New Mexico -- and the conclusion of his story.

Biegel makes a compelling case that he's solved the mystery, although it's not airtight. What is clear is that for a reader, his book is a home run.

However, the book may not be for everyone. The researcher who pointed out the story to us, George Hewitt, a long-time Dodgers fan, also noted, "Who cares where that **%@#** ball is?" -- probably the reaction of every Brooklyn fan who remembers the shock that still reverberates 59 years later.

Gagné Would Like Another Chance
Eric Gagné will pitch for an independent team in Quebec this summer in the hope of restarting a career that has hit the skids since he left the Dodgers three years ago, said he would welcome an opportunity to rejoin the Dodgers this season.

"I'd love to," Gagné said. "I always loved L.A." Gagné was speaking on a conference call to announce his signing with the Quebec Capitales of the Can-Am League as a pitcher/coach, said he hopes to return to the big leagues this season.

"I'm not putting pressure on myself to come back in two weeks or one month or whatever," he said. "Hopefully, I can come back to the major leagues sooner rather than later.

"Right now, I'm not looking at that. I'm looking to get healthy."

The Milwaukee Brewers released Gagné from a minor league contract in March, after doctors discovered a slight tear in his rotator cuff. He said the shoulder "feels good" after rehabilitation and that he is throwing all his pitches during bullpen sessions.

Gagné, 33, set a record by converting 84 consecutive save opportunities for the Dodgers from 2002 to 2004, winning the Cy Young Award in 2003 and electrifying Dodger Stadium with his goggles, goatee and "Game Over" motto.

The Dodgers signed him to a two-year, $20-million contract, but injuries limited him to 15 innings over those two years. In 2007, after the Dodgers offered him a one-year contract for $4 million, he signed with the Texas Rangers for a deal that eventually paid $8.5 million in base salary and incentives.

The Capitales have opened their season, although Gagnéß will be activated at a date to be determined.

"I'm about 80-85%," he said.

Peter Gammons Take on the Dodgers
Peter Gammons, ESPN's guru, had this to say about the Dodgers:

"The Dodgers' march through the National League West cost Bob Melvin and Clint Hurdle their jobs, two years after they managed against each another in the NLCS. The Diamondbacks fired Melvin two days after a two-game Dodgers sweep in Los Angeles; Hurdle was axed the day after the Rockies absorbed a three-game sweep by L.A. And the march may have prematurely forced what turned into the confusion that was the aborted trade of Jake Peavy to the White Sox.

"That the Dodgers' success has continued without Manny Ramirez makes one wonder what they will be when he returns, both in terms of who loses playing time and just how dominant that lineup will be with the maturation of the Dodgers' young hitters in Manny's absence.

"They have run up the best record and run differential with Hiroki Kuroda only making one start, while Randy Wolf, Eric Stults, Eric Milton, and Jeff Weaver are 9-2 as starters. While the bullpen is second only to the Marlins in innings pitched, Jonathan Broxton, Ramon Troncoso and Ronald Belisario have not been burned up, because the Dodgers have a comfortable 8½-game lead closing in on June.

"Now Ramirez's All-Star votes have obscured the Dodgers' successes, such as James Loney's RBI total or The Juan Pierre .400. Fans have the right to vote for Ramirez, and doing so is not a mandate on performance-enhancing drugs, or whether we will ever know exactly what he took, or why. But the best thing for Ramirez is to respectfully decline the honor if he is voted onto the team. He has earned more than $200 million playing baseball, and the sport doesn't need what should be a feel-good promotional exhibition turned into another forum on the steroids era when, in fact, Ramirez's suspension seems to affirm Bud Selig's testing policy.

"The best thing for Ramirez is to come back and simply let his skills speak for themselves. If he helps the Dodgers get to the World Series for the first time since Clayton Kershaw was 7 months old, he will be absolved in MannyLand. However, if he holds some forced mea culpa news conference as he prepares to return to the lineup, he will say something that will take on a Roger Clemens sound bite life of its own and be a further distraction from what he is already trying to put behind him."